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Iraq: World Applauds Sovereignty Transfer, But Divisions Remain

  • Charles Recknagel

Reaction and comment continues to come in from world leaders following Washington's early transfer of political power to the Iraqi government yesterday. The reaction is favorable but, in many cases, stops short of U.S. assertions that Iraqis are now fully in charge of their own affairs.

Prague, 29 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Iraqi administration is getting wishes for success from around the world as it begins its new life as the country's sovereign government.

The comments from French President Jacques Chirac -- made to reporters at the NATO summit in Istanbul late yesterday -- are typical of many.

"We want to wish success to the Iraqi interim government and to reassure it of our support in the economic and political reconstruction of Iraq and, of course, to wish for the Iraqi people to take back in their hands, without delay and with full confidence, the destiny of their country," Chirac said.

But also typical of the international reaction was how Chirac qualified his endorsement. And that was by saying the creation of a sovereign Iraqi government is "not a sufficient condition" to end the crisis in Iraq or the deep international divisions created by it.

"The transfer of sovereignty in Iraq is in our eyes a necessary condition -- unfortunately, not a sufficient condition, but a necessary one -- for the establishment of peace, stability, democracy, progress and development in the country," Chirac said.

Another key European power, Germany, struck much the same tone in its appraisal of the events in Baghdad.

In Istanbul, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called the transfer a positive step. But he appeared to characterize it that way largely because it showed Washington is meeting commitments it made under UN resolutions on Iraq.

"Generally, it is appreciated positively," Schroeder said. "We have wanted sovereignty to be transferred as soon as possible. In accordance with the UN's decision, we have always maintained that the date -- 30 June -- should not be delayed. Of course, we have appreciated an earlier transformation positively."
"The government can make it if it adheres to its programs and ends the presence of the U.S. and other troops." -- Syrian Information Ministry official


Both France and Germany have been among the strongest critics of Washington's Iraq policy, and their comments reflect that history.

Berlin and Paris have previously objected that the United States acted too unilaterally in invading and occupying Iraq. Over the past year, they have pressed hard to bring Iraq's political development under UN guidance.

Their opinions appear to be reflected in the official comments of the European Union. The EU said in a statement that "the handover of authority to the interim government was only the first step in a much longer process. Many challenges will have to be overcome before Iraq can truly call itself a free and democratic state."

But European countries that have troops in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition individually hailed yesterday's handover. Poland, Italy, and Denmark, among others, have all recently voted to extend the deployment of their forces in the country.

Washington's closest ally in Europe -- Britain -- said it hopes the transfer of power will be a starting point for mending some of the international rifts over Iraq.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters at the NATO summit that "there's no point in us standing here and saying, you know, all the previous disagreements have disappeared; they haven't."

But, he called the fact that the new Iraqi government is backed by a United Nations resolution and that NATO has agreed to help train Iraqi security forces important steps.

"In that sense, I think the international community has come together, and I welcome it," Blair said.

Meanwhile, Washington suggested yesterday that it does not expect the creation of a sovereign Iraqi government to have an immediate effect on critics either in Iraq or outside it.

"To suggest that [the handover of authority] will change something instantaneously would be a guess I would not want to make," U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at the NATO summit. "I think that you will very likely see, over a period of time, that the people will want to support that government."

In the Mideast, reaction to Iraq's sovereignty has been positive but often conditional.

Most of Iraq's neighbors -- including U.S. allies Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey -- praised the transfer of power.

But Iran and Syria -- longtime opponents of Washington -- said nothing about Iraq will change for them until U.S. troops leave the country.

Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said Tehran "welcomes any step toward the transfer of Iraqi affairs to the Iraqi people and the termination of occupation."

In Damascus, Ahmad Haj Ali, a senior Syrian Information Ministry official, said that "there will be great security problems as a result of the U.S. presence, and problems created by the Americans themselves. The government can make it if it adheres to its programs and ends the presence of the U.S. and other troops."
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